Archive for Sunday, June 20, 1999

PREVENTION PROGRAMS VIE FOR FUNDING

June 20, 1999

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Lawrence city commissioners and an advisory group must weigh applications from two groups that want to start programs to attack substance abuse among Lawrence's elementary school students.

Two groups want to push their prevention programs for drugs and alcohol into Lawrence elementary schools, but there may be room enough for only one.

The Lawrence school district and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center both want to operate school-based programs next year for elementary students. A recent survey indicated that one of every five sixth-graders uses alcohol and that one of every eight students smokes marijuana.

Before anyone starts sending officials -- either prevention specialists from the school district or mental-health workers from Bert Nash -- in to help, the city must decide who, if anyone, should get the job.

The two groups have asked the city for a total of $284,249 next year to get the elementary programs going. The combined amount is more than 80 percent of the $350,000 available to the city in alcohol-tax revenues dedicated for attacking all substance-abuse problems in town.

Both groups pledge to coordinate with one another, but something -- involving financing, at least -- has to give.

"There's not enough money for both," said Lori Johns, chairwoman of the city's Alcohol Tax Fund Advisory Board, which makes grant recommendations to the Lawrence City Commission. "We're really needing to sit down with these folks and figure out which way is the best direction. I don't know what's going to happen this year."

The advisory board is scheduled to review grant applications during its next meeting, set for 3 p.m. June 30 at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts. Nine groups have asked for a total of $704,661 next year, with the smallest -- $7,533 -- coming from Kansas University's Safe Ride service.

The school district's request, at $175,260, is the largest.

School officials want to hire four prevention specialists, two of whom would be assigned to elementary schools. One would work with junior high students, while another would join current specialist Diane Ash in working in high schools.

The concept: Raise students' awareness about substance-abuse problems and involve students in leadership training so that peers serve as role models to ward off abuse.

Starting in elementary school only makes sense, said Marlene Merrill, the district's director for assessment and grants. Studies show that it's when youths are in elementary school that the first sip of beer, drag on a cigarette or experiment with drugs is increasingly likely to occur.

And vigilant programming is essential for success, for every student in every school.

"Follow-up is critical," Merrill said. "You can't just teach students refusal skills once and expect it to take. You have to reinforce it."

Bert Nash, meanwhile, wants $108,989 to expand its "Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities" (WRAP) program, which currently places social workers in Lawrence's high schools and junior highs.

If the WRAP expansion is approved, Bert Nash would hire two full-time mental-health workers for placement in elementary schools, plus a part-timer for the Alternative High School. The grant also would cover costs of prevention programs through Van Go Mobile Arts.

The WRAP program targets children with behavioral or emotional issues -- including abuse of drugs or alcohol -- that put them at risk for involvement with the juvenile justice system, Tom Petrizzo of Bert Nash said in his written application. The program seeks to decrease students' use of drugs and alcohol, plus reduce discipline referrals, suspensions and attendance problems in public schools.

"There definitely is a need," said Johns, who holds a master's degree in social work and once headed Project Freedom, a coalition that sought to reduce substance abuse in town. "The question is what is needed and what can we do with this limited amount of money and be the most effective.

"That's a tough question."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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